Friday after dinner, I went on my usual “project errand” trip. First, a short stop at the art supply store, then a quick spin down the road to the nearest of many strip malls. There, the husband and I parted ways: He went to the guitar centre and I to the bookstore, Borders to be exact.
I didn’t really have anything particular in mind, but I do love browsing the isles full of mainstream whatnot in an attempt to hunt something down more in tune with my particular literary tastes. Most of the Lit stuff stocked is old, and much of it I have already read a million times over. Nevertheless, a book popped into my mind just as I entered Twilight Marketing hell. Anyway, they are remodelling the store, and so my usual haunts have moved. I wandered about aimlessly for a while, tossing round which direction I wanted to go: philosophy or poetry. I, in retrospect, really thought neither. When I finally decided to stop fooling around, I headed over to the computer kiosk for a bit of techno search help. I keyed in the title that had popped into my head on a whim and...wait for it...wait for it...Ding! The book was said to be in the store, and so I headed off, compass spinning, to try to find where they moved the damn horror section. In my wanderings, I stumbled upon several tall racks of books in the middle of the store. The sign at the top said: Required Reading for Local Schools. Now, if you're a book nerd like me, you can’t help but get a bit nosey parker and wonder: What the hell is it that they have these damn kids reading today? If it’s Twilight, I am gonna pitch a shit fit sure to embarrass everyone in the store.
By no means was this an irrational response for me. My stepson went to parochial school, and let’s just say, the reading material was “limited.” I went in with a bad attitude from the start. So I stood there for a moment, sceptical, but then as I scanned over the many titles they had on display, I got friggin' happy real friggin' quick. The classics were accounted for from In Cold Blood, to Slaughterhouse Five, to To Kill a Mockingbird, The Good Earth, and Fahrenheit 451. I was more than pleased. Even my beloved Novella was well represented with Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, and Lord of The Flies. I was doing such a little jig in the isle that the salesperson probably thought I had to pee. I assured her that bladder control for a woman of my age might be suspect, but in my case, it was just excitement. What I wasn’t prepared for were the new arrivals to the required reading scene. Stoker’s Dracula was there as was Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide. I even saw a smattering of new authors, in particular Brian Jacques’ Redwall and DiCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux, both of which I own in hardback. Yes, I am strongly inclined to stories with animals, and yes, I have been known to read a children’s book or two in my day: Watership Down is one of my favourite books of all time. I am a huge Beatrix Potter fan as well and a tried and true critter lover. Anything that stumbles hungry into my back yard gets a meal, don’t matter if it’s the skunk, the possum, or the raccoon. They all have names, and they all have backstories, well, backstories that I gave them, anyway. Not to mention, strap a sewing needle sword on a tiny little thing of a mouse and you've tugged my heartstrings.
However, back to the books: these stories aren’t cutesy fluffy bunny tales. Yes, they are children’s books, but they go far beyond that. These are tried and true fairly tales – fairy tales as they originally would have been written before sensitive editors toned them down. Dark, poignant, and very relevant, they mirror in grave detail the socio-political ills of humanity. Desperaux might be about a mouse who fell in love with a princess, but upon deeper reflection, he was a condemned mouse who suffered a death sentence for embracing a culture not his own. DiCamillo won the Newberry award for this book for damn good reason, and even though children will be entertained by the fanciful adventure on the surface, adults, digging deeper, will be rewarded with a rich, heartfelt, and hopeful experience and a glimpse at humanity that is both thought provoking and frightening in its truth. I haven’t felt this way about a children’s book since reading Alice in Wonderland, and I highly recommend Desperaux to readers young and old.
So, all in all, my bookstore excursion turned out to be a few hours well spent. I walked out with the book I wanted, which was Let The Right One In, if you must know, and all was right in my world. Literature is not dead after all.
Cheryl Anne Gardner